In the cinema: Spain’s tumultuous past revisited in Parallel Mothers

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Parallel mothers (R21)

123 minutes, opens February 17

4 stars

Acclaimed Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar makes one of his most overtly political films to date in this gripping work, which operates in a present clouded by a stubbornly unresolved past.

Janis (frequent collaborator of Almodovar Penelope Cruz) is a photographer who, after a single encounter with a man she has just met, becomes pregnant.

Choosing to keep the baby, she meets Ana (Milena Smit), a teenager from a wealthy family and soon-to-be single mother, at the maternity ward.

Their meeting will have consequences, especially for Janis, who is also trying to open an official study of a mass grave near her ancestral village, the site of executions during the Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939).

Writer-director Almodovar displays his usual mastery of female-centric melodrama, a talent that encompasses his ability to draw gripping performances from veteran actress Cruz and relative newcomer Smit.

The film was rewarded with two Oscar nominations, for Best Actress for Cruz and Best Original Score.

Like her previous film, the vaguely autobiographical Pain and Glory (2019), the fear of time running beneath the story, which deals on the surface with issues of motherhood and what it means for women at different stages of Life: Ana’s youth and wealth is matched by her cold family, while Janis’ age is matched by her loving circle of family and friends.

The countdown here refers to the portions of Spanish history that Almodovar feared would fade into the memory hole, particularly the Civil War period which saw the slaughter of thousands of people.

Vengeance is mine, everyone else pays cash (M18)

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